Marwan Barghouti is a convicted terrorist and Fatah commander who is leading a hunger strike from prison. As well as calling for better conditions for Palestinian prisoners by doing so he has placed himself firmly at the forefront of Palestinian politics. To the outrage of many in Israel the New York Times has published an op-ed by this Palestinian political figure.
Both Yair Lapid and Michael Oren respectively of the centrist Yesh Atid and Kulanu Parties are outraged. Oren even demands Israel close the New York Times’ Israel bureau. Bizarrely, he wishes to respond to the argument that Israel is a police state by shutting down media outlets who publish articles he disapproves of.
A predictably high number of other Israeli politicians have also waded in, competing with one another as to who can be the most outraged. All of whom are missing the point. We the general public have the luxury of being outraged. The leaders have the responsibility of making sure the lives of Israelis are improving by proposing and implementing responsible policies. Hearing these hyperbolic statements from various politicians hasn’t made the underlying issues affecting the state of Israel go away.
I suggest that it isn’t Barghouti’s lies that have gotten our politicians so hot under the collar but his truths. We have tortured Palestinians during interrogations, we do not offer them rights in prison but privileges such as access to education (supposedly a human right) that are given and taken away on a whim. We do convict over 90 percent of Palestinians brought before our military courts.
This has lead to the situation where our rule over Palestinians is so stringent that between 20% – 25% of the Palestinian West Bank populace are estimated to have served time in an Israeli prison at some point. Just as Barghouti claims in his op-ed.
If I were an Israeli minister, I would also be outraged every time these facts were reported because I would know that the responsibility for the situation is mine. Barghouti is still sitting in prison, his statement published in the New York Times does not exonerate him from the crimes he has committed nor does it serve as a get-out-of-jail-free card. If anything, it has served to make those who had never previously heard of him know that he is in prison for murder.
But there is more to this. Barghouti is a leader. Where he points others go. Now he is on a hunger strike in prison and he has led over 1100 others to do the same. There are riots on the streets as a result of decisions he has made behind bars. Israel has taken his liberty but not his power on the Palestinian street. Herein lies an opportunity for Israeli politicians to capitalise on his strength. Were Barghouti a pacifist he would be of no use to us. As a strong man he is someone who has the power to bring peace should he choose to do so.
The ailing Abbas will soon die. Each day, he becomes politically weaker. A result of continued security cooperation with Israel in exchange for very little. Arguments that Israel has the luxury of waiting for a Palestinian leadership it can deal with or that it can annex whatever it wants thereby creating a “solution” to the Israeli Palestinian conflict are nonsensical. Every day that Israeli politicians are “outraged” is a day wasted for attempting to take this conflict into a new phase. In Barghouti we have a Palestinian leader who has the strength to deliver on his promises.
Barghouti shouldn’t be mocked and the New York Times shouldn’t be punished for publicising his words. He should be challenged as to what he means by “occupation” and what he would see as a way of ending the conflict. We are currently very successful at putting Palestinians in prison and very bad and stopping them from making terror attacks. Perhaps it’s time to try changing that.
From Nelson Mandela to Martin McGuiness there is no such thing as a peacemaker who didn’t first oversee the killing of civilians. The job of our politicians isn’t to put their outrage on display nor to lament what has happened in the past. They are entrusted with the task of creating a better world for the people they have been elected to lead. Banning the New York Times bureau is hardly a means to that end.